Soto, Hernando de (c. 1497–1542)

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Soto, Hernando de (c. 1497–1542)

Hernando de Soto (b. c. 1496/1497; d. 21 May 1542), Spanish explorer and conquistador. Born in Villanveva de Barcarrota, Soto came to America in 1514 as a member of the Pedro Arias de Ávila expedition to Darién. By 1520, Soto had acquired substantial wealth from the slave trade in Central America. In 1532, he joined Francisco Pizarro in the conquest of Peru, and after accumulating significant wealth from the spoliation of Peru, returned to Spain in 1536. Soto had been present at the capture of Atahualpa at Cajamarca and afterward had taken Cuzco. Although Soto was at this time one of the richest conquistadores, on his return he sought the governorship of Florida. His expedition landed in Florida near modern Tampa in May 1539. Soto's search for a kingdom as wealthy as Tenochtitlán and Cuzco led his group from Tampa Bay to the modern states of Tennessee and Arkansas. The armada then moved to northwest Texas, and after traveling east to modern Georgia, marched west again to the Mississippi River, reaching Pánuco after crossing the Gulf of Mexico in makeshift boats. Soto died in Guachoya in present-day Louisiana. His corpse was thrown into the Mississippi River to keep the Indians from learning that he had died. Only his cruelty toward Indians compares with his foolhardy pursuit of the mirage of a flourishing city in the hinterland.

See alsoExplorers and Exploration: Spanish America; Pizarro, Francisco.


The major Soto narratives are available in English: Narratives of the Career of Hernando de Soto in the Conquest of Florida, edited by Edward Gaylord Bourne, 2 vols. (1922); Garcilaso De La Vega's masterpiece, La Florida del Inca (1605) also in English as The Florida of the Inca, translated and edited by John Grier Varner and Jeannette Johnson Varner (1951); and The Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539–1543, edited by Lawrence A. Clayton, Vernon James Knight, Jr., and Edward C. Moore (1993). For romanticized profiles of Soto, see Robert B. Cunninghame Graham, Hernando de Soto (1912); and Miguel Albornoz, Hernando de Soto: Knight of the Americas, translated by Bruce Boeglin (1986). On Soto's violence see "Hernando de Soto: Scourge of the Southeast," special section of Archaeology 42, no. 3 (May/June 1989): 26-39.

Additional Bibliography

Duncan, David Ewing. Hernando de Soto: A Savage Quest in the Americas. New York: Crown Publishers, 1995.

Galloway, Patricia Kay. The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

                                           JosÉ Rabasa